SPONTANEOUS: An Offbeat Coming-Of-Age Tale Where Teens Are Prone To Explode

The coming-of-age genre is ever-expanding, but not every coming-of-age film underscores the tribulations of adolescence and adulthood with much innovation, to say the least. Brian Duffield’s Spontaneous is the latest young adult film adaptation that revels in explosive conflict, quite literally as seen in the opening sequence: during class, a high school senior explodes, and the student’s blood drenches nearby peers. 

The camera does not veer away from the student’s gruesome fate, which attests to the fact that Spontaneous will be a grisly and unconventional coming-of-age film with actual guts to spill. The film explores the dilemma of students exploding out of nowhere, leaving seniors Mara (Katherine Langford) and Dylan (Charlie Plummer) venturing a world where, at any moment, they can explode, thus making their evolving relationship all the more cherishable and fleeting.

Adapted by the book of the same name by Aaron Starmer, Spontaneous is appropriately character-driven. Brian Duffield’s earnest adaptation of the unusual novel doesn’t get hung up on the scattered savagery but doesn’t shy away from it either. Spontaneous is an unanticipated delight that’ll appeal to young viewers craving a midnight horror snack, courtesy of its rum premise. Even so, the committed performances and weighty subjects at the center of the film yields snippets of pure reflection. 

Students Not Only Grow Up But Blow Up In This Daring Adaptation

Mara (Katherine Langford) is a caustic and self-willed teenager in the midst of her senior year of high school. Mara’s acidity is featured early on when the first senior explodes into pieces. In the aftermath, Mara divulges a nugget of truth to her perturbed classmates: “This could happen again to any of us,” and she isn’t wrong. While the circumstances in the film are direr than in real-life (but only by a slim margin), there’s incontrovertible truth to Mara’s statement that applies to our current reality.

In contemporary society, school violence is more frequent than it has ever been, as students are caught in the crosshairs of a school shooter’s unabated choler. Also, it would be remiss of me not to briefly discuss how the film is being released during a pandemic. Whereat any moment, our loved ones can contract the Coronavirus and potentially die. Nonetheless, the film’s release during a pandemic is not a direct indicator of the film’s quality. It does, however, garner more interest. 

SPONTANEOUS: A Caustic Teen Romance Where Teens Literally Blow Up
source: Paramount Pictures

Just by referencing Mara’s aforementioned quote, it is evident that Mara is a delightfully sardonic narrator, who continues to poke fun at the chaos that follows. After the student’s sudden combustion, Mara’s candid words tempt Dylan (Charlie Plummer), a fellow senior who loves film, to anonymously disclose his feelings for Mara via text message. As it turns out, Dylan has had a crush on Mara since freshman year, back when he was a new kid struggling with the death of his father. While the identity of the lovestruck boy is not known by Mara, they form a connection over text message that gives Dylan the confidence to face her at a local diner, where she hangs out with her best friend, Tess (a spirited Hayley Law). 

In typical rom-com fashion, Dylan and Mara are instantly drawn to each other, and together, they strive to live life to the fullest considering that they’re both a ticking-time-bomb. But, in all honesty, aren’t we all ticking-time bombs? 

As more seniors involuntarily explode, government agencies are summoned to manage the situation. But, despite government interference and a horrific fate provoking their nerves, Mara and Dylan continue to treasure their time together. 

It would seem that Spontaneous is a traditional rom-com that tepidly employs a plethora of familiar faces (one of whom is 13 Reasons Why’s Katherine Langford) as malleable chess pieces, exclusively propelled across the wacky, blood-soaked terrain without being able to progress their characters’ emotions authentically (It’s just another tragic teen romance, right? Not quite). But thanks to Duffield’s clever direction and staid screenplay, the humor and heart are modeled in a sincere manner.

The snappy dialogue, while fiercely mordant, is effective in underscoring telling subtext. At one point, a frustrated Mara makes a quip to her parents critiquing the tired statement that parents have jokingly told their children for years — that they generally had it harder as children. Mara refutes this immediately after another senior explodes: “Well at least now you can’t say things were so much harder back in my day.” There are instances where a single line warrants an entire discussion, such as the moment when Mara tells her parents — played by a soft-spoken Rob Huebel and a composed Piper Perabo that she may be the next student to explode, and they’ll be covered in her blood. This is a quick yet heartbreaking scene that speaks volumes to the ubiquitous violence taking innocent, young lives every day. 

SPONTANEOUS: A Caustic Teen Romance Where Teens Literally Blow Up
source: Paramount Pictures

Almost every line of dialogue is sharp, and almost every scene disinters a naturalistic predicament amongst the extravagant blood. The tone alone is highly intricate, as Duffield maintains a striking balance between horror, hilarity, romance, and existential anxiety. And the central romance, while unfolding briskly, is greatly magnified by Katherine Langford and Charlie Plummer, who are both firing on all cylinders. 

Sparks Fly Amongst The Blood & Chaos

Over the course of the film, the high school seniors contemplate their futures, or the lack thereof. But the future is especially pressing for Mara and Dylan, whose nascent romance is foregrounded more deeply and infectiously. As more seniors mysteriously blow up, Mara and Dylan are determined to grab life by the horns and make every breath (and kiss) count. 

The frightening realization that high school students are exploding for no particular reason prompts Mara to dabble in drugs, and Dylan is there to hold her hair back as she pukes into the toilet. Feeling impulsive, Dylan buys a worn-out ice cream truck as his choice of a first car, spending all of his savings like there’s no tomorrow (and that could be true). Mara and Dylan’s compatibility is ingrained early on as a result of the naturally endearing chemistry between Katherine Langford and Charlie Plummer

Spontaneous is Katherine Langford’s vehicle, and a successful one at that. Whilst Langford’s most prominent role is still Hannah Baker on the popular yet wildly insensitive 13 Reasons Why, Langford delivers her best performance yet as the unruly, rugged, and mocking Mara. The role is written in an agreeable fashion that allows Langford to embrace rebellion without fulfilling the quota of the manic pixie dream girl, and exude empathy and heartache without schmaltzy, overdone plotting holding her back.

SPONTANEOUS: A Caustic Teen Romance Where Teens Literally Blow Up
source: Paramount Pictures

Upholding an adorably dorky demeanor but a newly restored self-assurance (which was, funnily enough, largely fueled by the combustion of a fellow classmate), Plummer’s Dylan is modestly likable. While Plummer is simply playing another lovestruck teen (see: Words on Bathroom Walls & Looking for Alaska), he does so with laudable distinction. This time-around, Plummer’s taking on a more animated and frivolous role, and he does so effortlessly while justifying why he’s one of the most talented young actors working today. 

For the most part, Spontaneous is a nicely-put together film that utilizes voice-over narration, lighthearted montages (which are adequately edited by Steve Edwards), and swift conversations to keep up the momentum of Mara and Dylan’s newfound mentality of living life to the fullest. That being said, around the midway point, a substantial portion of the film revolves around the government confining the students to a controlled environment while they perform tests. The scenes in confinement, while still morbidly witty and panicky, slightly impede the development of Mara and Dylan’s relationship. Howbeit, Mara, and Dylan’s relationship enliven the stakes. 

Spontaneous is reminiscent of Heathers, particularly when it comes to the trenchant mirth and social satire carefully embedded into the script. Generally speaking, Spontaneous is a pawky and inventive tale of grief, death, love, and how the trajectory of one’s life can alter course in an instant. It is also shockingly graphic and unpredictably told. The omnipresent terror of spontaneous combustion is keenly felt, both visually through tactile pools of blood, and mentally through Mara’s recklessness. 

Nowadays, it isn’t hard to put yourself in Mara and Dylan’s shoes in view of the pandemic and the surge of gun violence. Spontaneous spotlights two teenagers trying to secure their love and purpose in uncertain times, and while that is scarily relevant, the film confronts violence and death in a way that supersedes any singular kernel of anguish. Violence is everywhere, and for many, death is just around the corner. Yet, as awfully bleak as that sounds, Spontaneous is rather optimistic, uncloaking the value behind living by encouraging you to live the best life you can before you combust. And living your best life also includes caring for the well-being of others. 

Conclusion: A Bitingly Funny And Surprisingly Thoughtful Teen Romance With Spontaneous Blood-Splatter

Spontaneous exploits the zany scenario in which teenagers literally explode quite impressively. Brian Duffield amplifies the fears of senseless carnage and the fugacious nature of life with dark humor, lurking dread, and genuine heart. All of which is vivified by Joseph Trapanese‘s diverse soundtrack that deftly juggles the film’s tonal complexity. Anchored by an extraordinary Katherine Langford in her best performance yet, Spontaneous will turn heads, churn hearts, and best-case scenario, blow you away. 

Are you interested in seeing Spontaneous? Have you seen it already? Let us know in the comments!

Spontaneous has a limited theatrical release on October 2, 2020, followed by a VOD release on October 6, 2020, by Paramount Pictures. 

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